What happens to your body when you fly long distances

No matter how many great movies you have lined up, long-haul flights are usually miserable. There's something cruel about being strapped into an uncomfortable upright seat, breathing only murky air at a pressure level that makes all your bodily functions more complicated than they should be. Of course, it's easier to endure if you've had a nice vacation on the other side of a long flight, but nonetheless, getting there can be a drag not only on your mind, but on your body as well. If you've ever wondered what happens to your body on a long-haul flight, you've probably experienced a general feeling of discomfort during and after a flight, and your concerns are justified.

If even a short flight can leave you dehydrated, bloated, and tired, the effects and complications only increase when you go on a longer flight. Teresa Fiorito, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s Family Travel Clinic, says that while air pressure and air quality are definitely important factors in how we feel after a long flight, it’s actually lack of mobility that matters. is the most dangerous.

"Flight time reflects the time a traveler spends immobile, and some studies suggest that prolonged travel may increase the risk of venous thromboembolism (blood clots) by 2:4, especially if other risk factors are present," Fiorito said . Busy. Factors such as smoking, taking oral contraceptives or having a family history of blood clots can increase the likelihood of this happening , Fiorito said.

Likewise, spending long periods of time in a confined space with other travelers on board who may have infectious diseases also puts you at greater risk of infection. You might think you're immune to people coughing and sneezing from many seats away, but germs are much more spreadable than we think. "Germs can travel up to 25 feet," Fiorito said, "so if someone sneezes in the aisle in row 10 and doesn't cover their mouth, the person sitting in row 20 could be breathing in those germs."

If you make it through the flight without catching a cold, flu, or blood clot, the remaining dangers are much more manageable. You may feel tired due to changes in oxygen intake and disruption to your natural sleep cycle, and you may feel dry and receding from dehydration and immobility, but all of these problems will disappear after a few days and your flight will not create Lasting impact.

Regardless of whether you have reason to believe you are at higher risk for blood clots, Fiorito recommends that all travelers on long-haul flights take the following steps:

walk around


Whenever possible, walk around the plane. If allowed, stand, stretch your legs, and get the blood flowing. If you can't stand up from your seat, Fiorito recommends doing calf exercises while you're seated. Moving and massaging your legs regularly will help keep the blood flowing.

drink lots of water


Stay well hydrated, even if it means you have to get up to go to the bathroom more often than you'd like. The more water you drink, the less support you have and the less intestinal discomfort you feel.

Avoid wearing restrictive clothing


Wear baggy pants and forget about the belt. Make sure your clothing does not block your circulation or make it difficult for your blood to flow freely.

Wear compression stockings


Compression stockings are recommended for those who are at higher risk for blood clots or have a history of leg swelling, but can be worn by everyone. High socks keep your feet warm and promote blood flow.


Theresa Fiorito, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist, NYU Winthrop Hospital Family Travel Clinic